More comprehensive records will be available to international patent searchers with the unveiling this year of a major overhaul to the International Patent Classification (IPC) system, which more than 100 countries use as their major or sole method in organizing patent information. The new classification features two mutually compatible levels, core and advanced, meant to cater to the diverse needs of global intellectual property offices with varying sizes and resources.
The core level will stay relatively stable, with 18,000 entries to be revised every three years. The advanced "electronic layer," definitions for which are still being developed, has IPC symbols that will be revised every three months. This layer will include chemical formulae, illustrations, and examples to help visualize chemical and drug entities, as well as greater details to allow more precise searches. Also, for the first time, people will be able to search comprehensively through all previous classifications using the latest version of the IPC.
This eighth version of the system represents what the patent research web site Delphion (part of Thomson Scientific) calls "the most sweeping change in the history" of the system.
The ability to acquire more detailed information as well as search retrospectively "is a very good thing," says Edlyn Simmons, a patent information specialist at Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati. But mandated for all major patent collections, "the magnitude of the changes, frequency, [and] fact that they will be applied globally is going to be upsetting to people," says Simmons. Patent offices and databases such as Delphion report delays in conforming to the new standard. The real casualties, at least in the beginning, says Simmons, will be the patent-searching novices, researchers and businesspeople for example, who may not be trained in the new system. "You can continue to search how you've been searching and you'll get answers. But you may not be getting all of the answers and you might not be getting the right answers," she cautions.